“Last in, first out” causing classroom chaos in Oregon school district

November 12, 2012

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Kyle Olson Kyle Olson

Kyle founded Education Action Group in 2007.
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By Ben Velderman
EAGnews.org

BEAVERTON, Ore. – If it weren’t for teacher unions, we’re told, educators would not be treated as the skilled professionals they are.

We’re also told that without strict union guidelines, unscrupulous school leaders would use hiring and firing decisions to get rid of all their expensive veteran teachers and replace them with poorly trained, inexperienced teachers – just to save a few bucks. This would lead to chaos in the classrooms, with children being taught by unqualified educators, union leaders charge.

It turns out that the exact opposite is true, as families in Oregon’s Beaverton School District are finding out firsthand.

OregonLive.com reports that persistent budget woes have led Beaverton school officials to eliminate 344 teaching positions. Since state law requires that teachers may only be laid off according to their rank on their district’s seniority chart, officials cannot get rid of educators based on their effectiveness in the classroom or their teaching specialty.

So instead of doing “surgical” layoffs, officials had to lop off the 344 least senior teachers from the employment rolls. This has left officials with the very complicated task of figuring out what subjects each of the remaining teachers is qualified to teach, and reassigning many of them to “drastically different subjects and grade levels” in which they have little or no experience, the news site reports.

For example, a longtime high school social studies teacher is now teaching seventh grade math, a subject she’s licensed to teach but never has.

“Seventh-grade math has 12 learning targets that are brand new to me,” the teacher told OregonLive.com. “How do you teach something you haven’t been trained to teach?”

All told, the district has placed about 160 teachers in “significantly different positions,” said Sue Robertson, district human resources director.

This has led teachers and parents to “worry that student learning will suffer as expertise is not utilized, or as students cope with a musical chair at the helm of the class,” reports OregonLive.com.

The messy transfer process has resulted in some classes have being led “by three different teachers in the nine weeks since school started,” the news site reports.

If Beaverton school leaders were allowed to determine teacher placements without kowtowing to antiquated union rules (such as “last in, first out”), they’d be able to keep the most effective teachers on staff and place them where they can do the most good for students.

But instead, school leaders have to twist themselves in knots just to stay in compliance with their union’s (and the state’s) unbending rules.

A group of parents are working with state Rep. Mitch Greenlick to require districts to consider a teacher’s competency when determining transfers. In turn, Greenlick is “working with the Oregon Education Association on the change,” the news site reports.

There are two problems with that.

First, the heart of the problem involves how teachers are laid off, not how remaining teachers are transferred to fill shortages. That requires nothing short of scrapping “last in, first out” (LIFO).

But there’s little chance that will happen, because Greenlick is working with the second most powerful teachers union in the country (as determined by a comprehensive new study). That means OEA leaders won’t sign off on any solution that compromises their members’ iron-clad job guarantees. The union will protect LIFO at all costs, which makes the possibility of meaningful change exactly zilch.

The chaos that’s playing out in the Beaverton School District will spread to other districts in time. The only upshot is that Oregonians can witness for themselves the destructive influence the teacher unions have on their public education system.

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